What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye.  It can be compared to a window that is frosted or “fogged” with steam.  Symptoms include a painless blurring of vision, glare, frequent eyeglass prescription changes,  double vision in one eye, needing brighter light to read, poor night vision, or fading or yellowing of colors.   

What causes cataract?

The most common type of cataract is related to aging of the eye.  Other causes of cataract include:  family history, medical problems such as diabetes, injury to the eye, medications such as steroids, long-term unprotected exposure to sunlight, previous eye surgery, and smoking.  Most cataracts associated with aging progress gradually over a period of years.  Other cataracts may progress rapidly.   

How is a cataract detected?

A thorough eye examination by your ophthalmologist (medical eye doctor) can detect the presence and extent of a cataract, as well as any other conditions that may be causing blurred vision or discomfort.  There may be other reasons for visual loss in addition to the cataract, particularly problems involving the retina or optic nerve.  If these problems are present, perfect vision may not return after cataract removal.   

How is a cataract treated?

Surgery is the only way to remove the cataract completely.  However, if symptoms from the cataract are mild, a change of glasses may be all that is needed.  Protection from excessive sunlight may help prevent or slow the progression of cataracts.   

When should cataract surgery be done?

Cataract surgery should be considered when cataracts cause enough loss of vision to interfere with daily activities.  You must decide if you can see to do your job and drive safely, if you can read and watch TV in comfort.  Based on your symptoms, you and your eye M.D. should decide together when cataract surgery is appropriate.   

What can I expect from cataract surgery?

Over 1.4 million people have cataract surgery each year in the US, 95% without complications.  During cataract surgery the cloudy lens is removed from the eye.  This can usually be done as an outpatient procedure without stitches or shots.   In most cases the focusing power of the natural lens is replaced with a permanent intra-ocular lens implant. Your eye M.D.  performs this delicate surgery using a microscope, miniature instruments, and other modern technology.

Sometimes after the surgery, the natural capsule that supports the intra-ocular lens will become cloudy.  Laser surgery is used in these cases to open this cloudy capsule.  

Cataract surgery is a highly successful procedure.  Improved vision is the result in over 90% of cases.   It is important to understand that complications can occur during or after the surgery, some severe enough to limit vision.    Please be sure to discuss the risks, indications, and alternatives to cataract surgery with your eye M.D.

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